My Dear Friends in Christ,
Let me begin by expressing my gratitude for your patience, understanding, and support during this difficult time. Pastoring during a pandemic was not on my course list at the Seminary. For the last four months we have suspended all gatherings in the church building, but the time has come to begin a phased re-opening.
The safety and spiritual well-being of St. John’s are top priorities as we move forward. Many factors needed to be considered in the discussion to safely return to in-person worship, including, but not limited to, the make-up of our membership, the availability of supplies, the capacity for seating with appropriate distances, ventilation, how to safely and reverently serve and receive the Lord’s Supper, limiting time and exposure in an enclosed space, the need for excess cleaning, the need for reducing the amount of surfaces and items touched, and the fears, frustrations, and opinions of the congregation. They are constantly on my mind, and I can assure you that they have been discussed at length during our monthly Church Council meetings. Each congregation is different in needs, membership, resources, and readiness. We can only do what is right for us. The CDC and our Atlantic District taskforce have helped to guide our re-opening procedures to minimize risk of exposure. I am well aware that not everyone is going to be happy with these protocols. I am also aware that some will think it’s too early and some will think we’re late to the party. Again, each congregation is different. We are all in different stages. As you have done the last four months, I ask again for your continued patience, understanding, and support as we move forward into a “new normal.”
Having said all that, with the support and consensus of the Council, St. John’s will begin the first phase of re-opening with one Sunday morning in-person worship service a week and private, outdoor Communion services scheduled throughout the week. In-person worship will begin on Sunday, August 2nd at 10:15am. Communion Services will begin the week following that Sunday. I need to warn you upfront: the service will not look the same as it did before the pandemic. It may not “feel” like church, and that may be unsettling or frustrating to some. Our in-person worship will consist of a brief (~30 minute) Service of the Word without singing. In this beginning phase, Communion will be moved to scheduled private, outdoor services for families and individuals throughout the week. As much as it pains me to separate the celebration of the Lord’s Supper from the worship service, it is being done this way to distribute it in a more familiar, reverent way while minimizing risks.
Due to limited seating, you will need to RSVP for the in-person worship service. To reserve a seat for our first in-person worship service on August 2nd, please call the office (516.742.5858) on Thursday, July 30 from 9am-Noon. Reservations for the following weeks will continue to take place by calling the office on the preceding Thursday from 9am-Noon.
When you reserve a seat, we will need to know a couple things:
- How many in your group (if more than you) are attending?
- Do you need to use the elevator?
Seats will be assigned based on availability and proper distancing. We may run out of seats. Please mentally prepare for the fact that you will most likely not be sitting in your usual pew.
If you desire to receive the Lord’s Supper—we’ve missed it greatly—you will need to sign-up for a private, outdoor Communion Service. These services will be very brief (~10 minutes) and will take place under a canopy on the back lawn of the church building by the office entrance. Street parking is available on Winthrop Street. You may also park in the parsonage driveway. Please bring a lawn chair if standing for the duration of the service is too much. Please note that, if the weather is too severe, appointments will have to be rescheduled. Reserve a time by emailing me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by calling or texting me (253.720.6893). When you reserve a time, I will need to know how many are attending. Individuals may also want to sign-up as a small group. The weekly time slots are:
Tuesdays: 9:00am, 9:20am, 9:40am, 10:00am, 10:20am, 10:40am, 5:00pm, 5:20pm, 5:40pm, 6:00pm, 6:20pm, 6:40pm
Wednesdays: 9:00am, 9:20am, 9:40am, 10:00am, 10:20am, 10:40am
Fridays: 9:00am, 9:20am, 9:40am, 10:00am, 10:20am, 10:40am, 7:00pm, 7:20pm, 7:40pm, 8:00pm, 8:20pm, 8:40pm
If you have developed any symptoms of COVID-19 in the last two weeks (including cough, shortness of breath, fever, chills, sore throat, new loss of taste or smell) or if you have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, please refrain from in-person worship and Communion. Those who are at higher risk from COVID-19 (i.e. those who are older or who have underlying health conditions) are also encouraged to remain at home.
Safety measures for the in-person worship service:
- A mask or face covering will be needed for the duration of the service. If you do not have a mask or happen to forget it, we will have one on hand. Please do not put anyone in an awkward position by showing up and refusing to wear one.
- A distance of at least 6 feet must be kept while walking up to the building and while waiting to enter (if there is a line to get in).
- The door will be propped open for easy, contact-less entry.
- Congregants will be instructed upon entry to sanitize their hands. We will provide a large pump bottle of hand sanitizer for this purpose.
- Seating assignments will be given and you will be instructed where to sit. Only one individual, couple, or family will be seated at a time.
- In order to maintain safe distances, only a select number of pews are available.
- Windows will remain open for the duration of the service.
- Bottles of hand sanitizer are available in the pews.
- Offerings can be dropped off in a designated spot in the Narthex.
- The liturgy will be projected onto the screen in the Sanctuary.
- Singing will not take place in this initial phase. Pre-service and post-service music will be played.
- Upon dismissal, congregants will exit in an orderly, distanced fashion. I will not be able to make myself available for greetings before or after the service, but please know that I’m available by phone or email.
- Group chats will not take place inside the building before or after the service.
Safety measures for the private, outdoor Communion services:
- A mask or face coverings will be needed for the duration of the service.
- Services are brief (~10 minutes) and are scheduled in 20 minute time slots. If you arrive while another appointment is finishing, please wait patiently.
- Congregants will be instructed to sanitize their hands before the reception of the Lord’s Supper. A large pump bottle of hand sanitizer will be provided.
- A safe distance will be kept for the duration of the service, except for the momentary distribution of the Lord’s Supper.
- The Bread/Body will be distributed using a no-contact dispenser. The Wine/Blood will be distributed using individual cups.
- The area will be disinfected before the next appointment.
I will continue to offer a pre-recorded online worship service with hymns on YouTube at 10:15am. In addition, beginning Sunday, August 2nd, I will offer a livestream of the in-person worship service on Facebook Live. Those worshipping at home will get to choose between the two services.
Bible Study will remain on Zoom during this opening phase. We will continue to meet weekly at 11am on Tuesdays and at 7pm on Thursdays. Please join us! If you would like the Zoom meeting information, email me at email@example.com. At this time, no other meetings or outside groups will be meeting in the building. I also will continue to offer Wednesday Night Psalter at 7:00pm on Facebook Live. All are invited to take a few minutes during the week to rest in God’s Word with me and my family (and Washy).
Please keep in mind that this is the first phase of the reopening process. We are safely “getting our feet wet,” adhering to CDC and Atlantic District guidelines while being mindful of our own unique needs. We are staying up to speed on the latest information. In fact, I have regular meetings with fellow pastors and our Bishop. We will reevaluate and adjust as needed. For now, this is the plan. I thank you again for your patience, understanding, and support. God continues to deliver His grace to us through His Word. I want to reassure you that the grace that is delivered to us in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is the same grace that was delivered to us in our Baptism. It is delivered to us weekly in the Absolution, and it is delivered to us by the preaching and hearing of God’s Word. No matter what, God will not stop strengthening us in the one true faith until life everlasting. Believe it! As always, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.
Only Because of Jesus,
Pastor Jake Allstaedt
Office: 516.742.5858 | Cell: 253.720.6893 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org